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Fort New Salem showcases talents of woodcarvers

by Danny Forinash

STAFF WRITER

Woodcarvers visited Fort New Salem this weekend to display their talents and help out with the Salem Heritage Festival. According to Carol A. Schweiker, director of Fort New Salem, this is the fourth year the festival has showcased woodwork. Before, other arts and skills like blacksmithing were the focus. Festivities are still going on today and will last from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Schweiker says the festival is the only event of the year that is "non-history-based" and focuses on heritage skills. Other festivities at the fort feature particular historical seasons or events.

"Our mission is to highlight the skills of the people in West Virginia," says Schweiker. "Many of these skills are disappearing."

Woodcarver Mel VanDyke of Belpre, Ohio, was at the festival displaying his collection of wooden yo-yos, hound dogs and terriers. A beautiful scarlet dragon carved from red heart, an exotic wood, stood out among his figurines.

VanDyke was unable to bring his wooden band, a group of figurines with individual facial expressions to match the instrument they play.

"It's just a day to carve, tell stories, talk to people and have a good time," says Dick Ryan, president of the Geppetto Carving Club. Geppetto is a five-year-old organization of woodcarvers based in Parkersburg and includes many of the carvers who were at the festival.

Ryan displayed a set of wooden spoons he carved. He had lightweight "feather spoons" made from basswood and two-sided spoons connected by carved hearts and flowers.

Members of Geppetto were busy carving pieces to be put together on a friendship cane, a wooden pole made to fit several individually carved blocks.

Lyle Mills of Parkersburg had a set of wooden Christmas ornaments on display, while his brother, Larry, exhibited carved boots and shoes. Larry left his collection of sleek, hand-made Pennsylvania rifles at home.

Stan Crossman of Salem showed a set of instruments he made from scratch, including a banjo, guitar and lap dulcimer.

He also had a wind person on display which needed "rotator cup surgery" because its arms wouldn't spin in the wind as they were supposed to. Crossman's assemblage also included "wood sprits," which are bearded faces carved into cottonwood bark.

Fellow Geppetto member Joe Osburne from Vincent, Ohio, sat in the hot sun whittling out chip carvings, which are geometric designs carved out on flat, usually triangular, planes of wood.

Although Carl Kinney of Clarksburg wasn't part of Geppetto, he still took advantage of the festival to whittle and display his collection of carved fish, mostly from native West Virginia wood.

"I've always enjoyed working with wood," says Kinney, who has been carving 12 years since his retirement.

David Wentz, historical interpreter and staff member at the fort, was also out demonstrating the treadle and spring pole lathes at his wood shop. Wentz, who has traveled the country displaying his skills, tries to keep his designs and techniques true to 19th Century style.

The festival also featured arts like quilting, candle-making, basket-making and blacksmithing, along with some tasty homemade ice cream at the fort's Green Tree Tavern.

Staff writer Danny Forinash can be reached at 626-1442.

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